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Suburban crunch: New school touted for Findlay Creek; existing facility looks for solutions to surging enrolment

The need for elementary schools to serve families in the booming community in south Ottawa was anticipated.

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The booming Findlay Creek community in south Ottawa is getting a new English Catholic elementary school, while the English public school in the neighbourhood is so crowded that some students may have to be shifted out.

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Findlay Creek, near Bank Street and Leitrim Road, is expanding quickly, but schools for the suburb have been slower to arrive.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board was celebrating this week after the province announced a $13.2-million elementary school would be built in Findlay Creek for 507 pupils on Kelly Farm Drive. Catholic students who live in the community have been bused out of their neighbourhood to go to school for 15 years, the board said in a release.

Meanwhile, the English public elementary school in Findlay Creek is busting at the seams.

Vimy Ridge Public School only opened in 2017, but today there are 17 portable classrooms in the yard.

This fall Vimy Ridge has 1,081 students in a school built for 647, according to a staff report from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. (That includes 58 students who have taken the pandemic option of studying virtually.)

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By 2023-24, enrolment at Vimy Ridge is projected to increase to 1,370 students, more than double the capacity of the building. A sea of portables — 28 of them — would be required to house all the students, the staff report said.

“With ongoing growth in the community over the next few years, enrolment growth is no longer sustainable at the school,” the report added.

Property on Kelly Farm Drive is being targeted as the future site of a new Catholic elementary school in the Findlay Creek community.
Property on Kelly Farm Drive is being targeted as the future site of a new Catholic elementary school in the Findlay Creek community. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

Staff have recommended a temporary fix: busing Grade 7 and 8 students at Vimy Ridge to Steve MacLean Public School.

If approved, the switch would start next fall and take place over two years.

Even with some students moved out, staff estimate that Vimy Ridge would still require 20 portables next year and 21 portables the year after that.

Adding more students to Steve MacLean would increase enrolment pressures there. Staff estimate that nine portables would be needed at Steve MacLean next year and 12 the year after that. If more than nine portables are added at Steve MacLean, students would lose their sports field, the report said.

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However, some of the pressures may be eased with the construction of a new public secondary school approved by the province for Riverside South for Grades 7 to 12, the report said. That school is scheduled to open in September 2024.

The staff report will be debated by trustees at a meeting on Dec. 7.

Vimy Ridge parents have lots of questions and concerns, says Jennifer Jennekens, the area’s Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee. They are worried about more busing when there is already a shortage of buses and the loss of green space at both Vimy Ridge and Steve MacLean as school yards are eaten up by portable classrooms, she said.

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The need for elementary schools to serve families in Findlay Creek was anticipated.

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During the development planning process with the City of Ottawa, the Ottawa-Carleton District School board said it would require two public elementary schools to serve the 7,000 homes planned for Findlay Creek, according to the staff report.

By the end of 2020, about 5,185 homes had been built at Findlay Creek, the report said.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa Catholic School Board put a new school in Findlay Creek as the No. 1 priority on its capital project list submitted to the province last spring, according to a staff report.

About 370 English Catholic students who live in Findlay Creek are now bused to St. Thomas More and St. Bernard schools, that report said.

Conservative MPP Goldie Ghamari, during a media conference to announce the new Catholic school, was asked whether the province would also fund a new English public school in Findlay Creek.

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Ghamari said she met with  Ottawa-Carleton board officials in July to talk about their capital priorities, and a school in Findlay Creek was No. 4 on their list.

“We did speak about overcrowding, and at that point they did not seem to think that it would be an issue, so, with the recent news that came out a few days ago (about transferring students out of Vimy Ridge), it caught everyone by surprise, including myself, especially since Findlay Creek had not been at the top of their list.”

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Ghamari said she would attend the school board meeting on Dec. 7 and also organize a town hall with parents to discuss what could be done. “But, having said that, the first step would be for the board to make it their top capital priority.

“If it’s not their top capital priority, that makes it a little difficult to move forward.”

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